Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne waxed poetic Monday about legislators finally getting down to doing in overtime what they should have done in the regular session.
“So we gather again in Baton Rouge to wail and moan and jaw/Let’s just get this over and head to Omaha!”
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne remains optimistic that the state budget impasse in the Louisiana Legislature will be resolved soon.
More than a few lawmakers — with a chuckle to show it was a joke, then a furtive glance that suggested maybe not — said the desire to be in Nebraska for the College World Series softened partisan positions in negotiations for a budget to operate state government starting July 1.
That wasn’t really in evidence Tuesday night when the conservative House Appropriations Committee voted 14-7 to shoot down an effort to include most Senate proposals. The Senate wanted to set aside $50 million in appropriated money and the House conservatives wanted to slash $100 million directly from the budget.
The panel, instead, forwarded a near duplicate of the budget approved by the House in May.
Leaders from Louisiana colleges and universities, the state Department of Health, prisons and social services programs got another chance Mond…
Then, early Wednesday morning, U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and the GOP congressional baseball team was ambushed by a gunman we now know held partisan grudges. While the shootings paralyzed governance in Washington, a strict calendar that dictates how legislation must march meant Scalise’s former colleagues in Baton Rouge had no choice but to soldier on if they were going to get a spending plan passed before the deadline.
Nationally, the narrative evolved during the day that the shootings were an outcome of a political discourse that had grown unnecessarily harsh and personal.
“Politics, in many cases, have devolved into a dehumanized blood sport. Contributing to the problem, many in the media and bloggers have evolved from reporters to editorialists and provokers spreading misinformation and sensationalism," said Republican U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, of Baton Rouge.
In Baton Rouge, legislators reflected on how the mean-spirited, two-month regular legislative session accomplished little.
State Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, said after the Scalise shooting: "It is the rhetoric we hear on the state level, nationwide, that we are getting such a division in this country we’d better get back to the middle.”
Thinking back on the regular legislative session, Democratic Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith added, “Some people didn’t care about what they said or how they hurt others.” Her inner-city Baton Rouge district includes the State Capitol and Tiger Stadium.
During a committee hearing about local decision-making authority on Confederate monuments, the 71-year-old Smith, a member of the Black Legislative Caucus, was told she needed “to get over” slavery and Jim Crow.
Smith said she noticed a change in some of her colleagues during the session. “It was unfortunate. But for a lot of us, we came back from that and got on the road of doing our job,” said Smith, who supported the Senate proposal over the House version of the state budget as a member of the conference committee negotiating the budget bill during the regular session.
Republican state Rep. Kenny Havard, whose district covers the Feliciana suburbs of the Capital City, likened the string of six sessions over the past 18 months to homes filled with refugees after floods or hurricanes. “You put three or four families in a house, after a few months they’re fussing and fighting,” he said.
And that anger was exploited by organizations pressuring lawmakers on specific agendas.
“When you turn around and look at the back row (in the House chamber), there’s no one there from your district,” Havard said. “It’s just a bunch of special interest groups. Whether they’re real right-wing or real left-wing, they’re all trying to hold on to their kingdom.”
Legislators don't like to challenge special interests that are good at raising money and energizing their supporters in House races, where a few hundred ballots can determine a contest that usually draws about 25,000 voters, he said.
In the end, a bare majority of the full House agreed Wednesday night to amend the conservatives’ budget bill to look more like what the Senate proposed. Havard added another amendment to the budget bill that would require agencies to set aside $60 million of their appropriation to use in case revenues didn’t come in as projected. The Senate approved on Friday morning.
For whatever reason — fatigue, Omaha, Scalise — the moderate elements broke the impasse that had plagued the 2017 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature.
Will it last?
“It’s the nature of where politics have gone. It is divisive. It’s a shame what happened to Steve Scalise. But it’s all a product of total of extremism in both parties. Nobody wants to come to the middle,” Havard said.